Pretty Good Genes
Copyright 1996 by Release Magazine, reproduced with permission
In Matthew 16:13-19 we have the fullest account of the conception of the church (in the same way that we often look at Acts 2 as being an account of her birth). Mark and Luke give briefer accounts, but I'm not going for brevity right now; I'm looking for significance. And don't worry that John doesn't include this conception in his gospel. He also did not include Elizabeth's conception of John or Mary's conception of Jesus.
I call it a conception because for all that we don't know about conception, we at least believe that at that moment all that we are made of and all that we will grow into, is set or founded. A conception is that moment when something unique, dynamic, and alive is defined. Something old does not change, something that never was before begins - a new possibility becomes real and takes on its own identity.
This is what happens in Peter's confession that "Jesus is Messiah, Son of the Living God" and in Jesus saying that was the defining moment for the Church He was beginning to build.
Jesus asked, "Who do men say that I am?" and at least four answers were given by at least two apostles. Those who answered this question are not named, possibly because the answers - though they might be accurate - were highly unremarkable. They originated in reason, not in revelation, and Peter's answer would knock them flat. Anyway, as soon as He got His answer, Jesus dropped the whole discussion as if to say that the world He made and that would not receive Him would never be allowed to define Him. No brilliantly composed picture, no delicately balanced compromise about Him would do. He would not refigure Himself to fit their miscalculated equations of disfigure Himself to fit their undersized frames. The ideas that the world had (and still has) about Him were of no interest to Him because they were and still are irrelevant to who He was, is, and ever shall be. Maybe He asked because He knew that the answers would provide a bleak and bland backdrop against which the answer to His next question would really pop.
So He asked, "Who do you say that I am?" Here, Peter distinguished himself answering not by reason but by revelation, "You are Messiah, the Son of the Living God!" To this Jesus answered (and here I'll ask you to endure my somewhat lopsided but maybe not altogether inappropriate paraphrase), "You blessed little Pebble! Your answer didn't come from this lost little world, but it came from back Home. Now you're a rock and on this rock I'm building my house..."
People have long tried to distinguish between Peter and this confession, but (not that we can settle that debate here) who can sever a man from his beliefs without destroying both? What is conviction if it is disembodied? What remains of a man when he is left without his thoughts? Apart from each other, both are nothing. In their union there is something that never was before - something unique, dynamic, and alive. And in this union, the stuff of which the Church is made and the thing that - if she does well - she will grow into, is set. Here at Peter's confession, the truth of heaven connects with human experience and the Church is conceived.
And just as the heavens declare the glory of God, the Church pronounces the name of His Son. And as the skies proclaim the work of His hands, the Church testifies to the work of His Messiah. Red blood and flesh confess Jesus' Lordship, then drop the ball and are baffled by the immensity of that confession. People who are not pointlessly perfect receive an unattainable revelation and then misunderstand and betray the Truth. They foolishly divide and become divisive and yet He makes them one. They stumble and limp and sometimes turn to lesser gods and then are embraced by the One they've abandoned. As Paul says, "We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God..." and this confession that Jesus is Messiah still changes pebbles into rock and as long as the Church confesses, she will continue to be what is in her genes to become.
We've got pretty good genes. We'll do well to grow into them.